Welcome. I usually write pure science fiction, but my lovely wife has persuaded me to try my hand at a Xena and Gabrielle story. Some of the ideas and characters in this story have been "borrowed" from some of my other works. I hope you enjoy this unusual X&G tale as much as I enjoyed writing it. And as always thanks go to my lovely wife Debbie, my amazingly precocious daughter Marissa, as well as Merlin, (cat)Zilla, and Brett (the cats), for both supporting me through writing this and not biting me in the feet for as long as it took to do this.
The standard disclaimers regarding copywrited material apply here. Dont own them, just borrowing em
Xena, Gabrielle, Cyrene, the amazons, Gabrielles family and the gods all belong to Universal and Renaissance Pictures. I am just borrowing them temporarily.
Also please note that this story contains scenes with Adult language, Gratuitous Sex, and there may be other things in here, which Children should not be exposed to. Anyone who does not have a sense of humor, or cannot handle fantasy should close this file now so as not to have his or her Lilly white eyes offended. Failure to properly take serious note of these warnings may result in a large Emu prancing naked through your living room, while singing "Tip-Toe through the Tulips" in C minor.
Enough silliness, now on with the show
Of Damsels and Demons
By: Richard Sensale
It was well past mid-day as the Warrior Princess and her traveling companion headed south along the somewhat overgrown road. Surrounded by the noises of the forest through which they traveled, they continued along at a leisurely pace. Crickets were beginning to stir as the sun hung low in the western sky, barely visible above the dense forest canopy. A chill ran through Xena, a herald of the winter, which was almost upon them.
Gabrielle sat astride her new horse "Amber". She watched every movement that her companion made, in an effort to improve her somewhat clumsy riding skills.
"Xena, I dont know how you do It." she said. Xena turned her head slightly to address the Bard. "Do what?" Gabrielle looked wide-eyed at Xena and smiled, "Ride. You make it look so easy, and you never seem to get saddle sores. I, on the other hand, cant stay on Amber for more than a few hours without needing to soak in a hot spring. Is it the saddle? Maybe a riding blanket would be better?" Xena smiles and replied. "I dont think its the saddle, and if you think you are sore now, using a blanket without the saddle would have you bow legged in a few days. You just need to learn to match your movements with the horse. That way there is no chafing. It comes with practice, and a lot of it."
The two continued on in silence for some time, Gabrielle visibly twitching in her saddle as time went by. They were just exiting the forest when they heard hoof beats frantically racing toward them from somewhere ahead of them. Xena casually unclipped her sword and chakram. Gabrielle moved her fighting staff and Sais into a fighting position with practiced ease, as they waited for the rider to come into sight.
Soon the rider came into view. Upon seeing who it was, Xena and Gabrielle relaxed. Within a few seconds a rather shaggy palomino, with an even shaggier rider came to a stop next to them. Xena and Gabrielle reined in their horses.
"Joxer! What in Hades are you doing here? Last I heard, you were hunting a dragon with some Spaniard called Quixote." Gabrielle said.
Joxer took a second to catch his breath and replied, "Never was a Dragon, that crazy old man was nutty as a loon. (pant pant), So I was on my way to Athens to catch up with you two, when I stopped for a break in a small village down this road. I stayed one night and that was plenty. Seems some of the locals have disappeared and there is talk that some of the others have spotted demons in these woods."
Xena appeared surprised. Having had more than one run in with the foul spawn of Dahok, she had no wish to repeat those experiences. Still, she had made humanity her personal responsibility, and could not ignore those in need. "Just where is this town Joxer? And what kind of demons have been seen?"
Joxer, still recovering his breath, hesitated for a last gulp of air before replying. "There seem to be two kinds. Really, really, really big ones, and little itsy bitsy small ones, no bigger than a child of 7. The town is about half a league down the road. Its called Alphius. Lovely place. Great food, good wine, and the women " (SCHMACK!).
As Joxer recovered his composure, the trio continued along the road in silence. The quiet was only broken by the occasional sound of Joxer tripping over a branch when he tried to sneak a look at Gabrielles ample backside.
The road wove around boulders and trees. Whoever had cut it into the woods, seemed to have taken great care not to disturb the forest unduly. Even so, the ride went quickly and the three soon saw the outer buildings of the town. Xena brought Argo to a halt outside of the town and dismounted, "I want to scout ahead for a few minutes. I have a strange Feeling about this place. You two stay here and guard the horses."
Joxer and Gabrielle looked at each other, and then Joxer shook his head and replied, "Xena, Im a warrior. I dont want to just sit here and watch a couple of horses." Xena looked over her shoulder at Joxer, "You may be right Joxer. The Horses have enough to do without having to protect you." Xena smiled and walked away, leaving Joxer to think over her comment. Gabrielle dismounted from her horse and tied the reins to a small tree nearby. "Joxer, I think you better just do what Xena says. She prefers to scout alone." Joxer just grunted and sat down heavily on a rather sharp rock.
Xena was approaching the town center when she heard a loud yell from behind her. She was almost startled until she realized whose voice it was. She shook her head in disbelief and continued into the town.
Xena arrived in front of a low stone building. Like all the other buildings she had seen, this one looked very run down. Weeds overgrew the narrow path leading up to the front gate. Ratty old curtains covered the windows inside. Dust seemed to be everywhere and in great amounts. She had not seen anyone on the street and was wondering where everyone was. Suddenly three men appeared. Each was holding a makeshift weapon. The first man wasted no time. He held a crude club with several nails protruding from the end. He leapt and swung at Xena. Xena back-stepped and slipped a little to her left. She had decided that these were definitely not professional soldiers. As the man passed her, she cut his club in half with one swing of her sword. The other two men had begun to move as well. She slipped her Chakram from its sheath and flung it at a nearby wall. She then returned her attention to the man with the club. As she removed the stub of the weapon from his rather unwilling hand, the Chakram bounced three times, on the second bounce, it collapsed a small shelf on the building, spilling a number of stones and logs onto one of the other hapless men. On the Third bounce, the other man was put out of action as a now unhinged window shutter hit him squarely on the head. The original man was fairing no better. In two swift motions, Xena cold-cocked him and dropped him to the ground. She snatched the Chakram from the air and replaced it in the sheath.
Xena looked around quickly to ensure that the three men had no friends waiting in some shadow. Once satisfied, she walked to the door of the building. She stood to one side of the door and smiled. With her left hand, she reached over to the door latch and pulled it. As the door began to swing open, a long, rusty sword lunged from the opening. Xena grabbed the hand that was attached to the blade and pulled the owner from the building. As the man came by, Xena turned and hit him in the back of the head with her elbow. The man soon joined the other three on the ground, in blissful slumber.
After this, Xena assumed her usual, self-assured stance and entered the building. The building was dimly lit. About thirty people huddled here on uncomfortable wooden benches. Xena felt that this was some kind of temple, but she could see no idols or images of the god who was worshipped here. The benches were arranged on wither side of a narrow aisle. At the head of the aisle, a man stood. He had white hair, gray eyes and a very unkempt beard, which almost touched the floor. Xena felt an immediate distrust of the man. He smelled for one thing, and he seemed to ooze with a very arrogant attitude. He seemed to be in charge of this group. He wore an expensive looking gray robe, adorned with strange symbols. The others in the room were all clothed in dirty tattered rags. All but the leader seemed to be suffering from hunger. They seemed to be in a state of near panic. This only served to reinforce the patent distrust, which Xena felt for the man in gray.
His eyes locked with hers for an instant as she walked up the narrow aisle. She stopped just short of the old man, "Who are you?" The man looked at her for a moment before answering, "Im and Hipocrius. I bring the word of the one god to my flock." Xena smiled wryly and looked about her, "Flock, as in sheep. These people need food by the look of them. And someplace warm to sleep. If youre their leader, I would have to say that youre not doing a very good job."
Hipocrius smiled unconvincingly, "We would eat more, if we had food. But the foul demons have made the fields and forest unsafe. So we pray to our lord for deliverance. I believe he has delivered you unto us for this reason. You are Xena, arent you?"
"Delivered What are you talking about?"" asked Xena. "You have been delivered unto us, to end this horrible scourge, and lead us into the good life.", was the old mans reply. Xena stood in disbelief. "So let me get this straight. You think I was sent here by whoever your god is, to get rid of these demon things in your forest?" Hipocrius inhaled and replied, "Exactly. It is our lords will. You must do it, or suffer an eternity of torment."
"You will find that I do not respond well to threats or extortion. As for your Demons; Ill see what I can do about them, but ONLY so these poor people have something to eat. And when Im done with the Demons, I plan on having a long conversation with you." Xena smiled and took a small bag from her belt. She tossed it to a small child who was weakly crying in her mothers arms. "Take this, share it with the other children. Ill see what I can find for you while I deal with the Demons."
With that statement, Xena turned to leave. As soon as the door was shut behind her, Hipocrius walked to the child that Xena had given the food to. He smiled and snatched the small pouch from the childs hands.
Xena left the town hall with mixed feelings. She hated the idea of helping the slimy priest. She was sure that he would somehow end up taking credit for her intercession. Whats more, she hated his kind in general. He was a parasite. His kind fed off of the misery of other people. In some cases, she thought, his kind caused much of that misery. But she had to help these people. They were on the brink of starvation. Some of them looked ill, and she was afraid of the disease, which could all too quickly wipe out small towns like this. No, she would help, and then she would act on her promise to have a further little "chat" with the priest. She also made a promise to herself that when she left this town, the corrupt priest would no longer be a factor for these people to worry about.
In a foul mood, she returned to Gabrielle and Joxer.
Joxer sat carefully on a patch of moss. Gabrielle was trying her best not to laugh or chuckle. Even Argo seemed to enjoy Joxers discomfort. Xena reappeared startling Joxer who jumped involuntarily, causing a further chuckle from Argo. "Xena! Do you have to sneak up on people like that?" Xena smiled at Joxer, not wanting to cause her friend too much more discomfort, "Sorry Joxer, but you really should watch where you sit down in the forest. Youre lucky that you didnt sit on a porcupine." Joxer looked at her in bewilderment, "How did you know I, uh, um, er ?" Xena smiled even more, "Simple, you did the same thing last year outside of Athens, and you had the exact same look on your face then. Besides, youre rubbing your backside "
Xena walked to a comfortable looking log and sat down. She motioned for Gabrielle to join them from where she was dressing a rabbit for dinner. Gabrielle put down the hare and sat across from Xena. "The village is run by some priest. He said he thought his one god had sent me to them to destroy the demons. The people down there are frightened and starving. I think that if we dont do something soon, theyll have a plague problem as well before long." Gabrielle spoke after that, while Joxer just sat thoughtfully, rubbing his damaged posterior. "The One God? You mean they are some of Elis people? So were gonna help them right?"
Xena looked at Gabrielle, deciding how to phrase what she had to say, "No Gabrielle. I dont think that these are Elis people. That priest is scum. Ive known warlords that Id rather help. Hes using this crisis to strengthen control over them. Maybe hes taking advantage of Elis teachings to gain power. It wouldnt be the first time that people have done that. No, I will help these people, but not for his sake, or the sake of his twisted religion. Ill help the people, and then Im coming back and remove that fat priest, one way or another. Now, we need to search around. Joxer, you said there seem to be two types of Demons? Do you have a general idea of where they have been seen?"
Joxer stopped rubbing himself, and stared at Xena, "You dont mean youre seriously going to go LOOKING for these demons? Only one person who has seen them has come back to tell about it, and he was crazy as a Trojan, after the horse." Xena scratched her chin once and replied, "Yes Joxer, I am going to find the Demons and take whatever actions I have to make the fields and woods safe for the villagers again. Im not so sure that there really are demons though. I wouldnt put it past the priest to arrange for their appearance. He is the only one benefiting from their rumored presence. You said that only one person who had seen them returned? Where might we find this person?"
Joxer sighed, resigned to yet another wild adventure with Xena. Besides, it did give him a bit of extra time near his Gabrielle. Right now, the object of his attentions was awaiting his response to Xena, so he accommodated her, "Well, since I know that when you get THAT look on your face, there is no talking you out of something. A huntsman went into the woods a few weeks ago, and, as I heard it, he came back a few days later, stark raving loony. He kept sputtering on about the Demons. I think his daughter took him home and he hasnt been heard from since. I think the tavern maid said they lived a bit south of town. So we shouldnt be far from their place."
Xena thought about this. Gabrielle knew her friend was formulating a plan even as she sat there. Gabrielle was always amazed at the depths of Xenas mind. She had seen Xena snatch victory from the jaws of Hydras on numerous occasions. As their friendship had developed, Gabrielles respect for Xena had grown from childish admiration, to fascination, to total amazement at the complexity and intelligence of the woman. What Gabrielle seldom realized however, was that Xena also held her in the highest esteem.
They slept fitfully that night. On several occasions, Xena was awakened by strange sounds coming from deep within the woods. Sounds that she had never heard before. They seemed to drift through the forest. Xena had never heard such sounds. Some sounded like very high voices, chattering aimlessly in some unknown language, just at the edge of her hearing. Other sounds were more ominous. These sounds would have been very loud, had they been closer; low, almost growling. There was a low droning hum, which seemed to emanate from everywhere, and a few times, Xena thought she heard a metallic clinking sound, like plate armor moving through the woods. When she aroused in the morning, Joxer and Gabrielle had already packed their gear and fed the horses.
It was unusual for Xena to sleep longer than Gabrielle, and even more so Joxer. The sky was cloudy and she felt like she had slept on a rock. When she got up and moved her bedroll, she noticed that she indeed, had slept on a small stone.
It took them just over an hour to find the small house in the woods. It stood in a small clearing, surrounded by a garden, full of rather smelly plants. "Garlic!" was Gabrielles immediate observation. "Wow, what an incredible odor!". Joxer pulled a small clip from his pack and fastened it over his nose, "Smells like a Roman food stall "
Their group approached the house. Someone was moaning incoherently inside. Xena could hear someone else inside, attempting to sooth the suffering party. The arrived at the door and Xena knocked. This seemed to set off a new round of uncontrollable sobbing from the house. Xena could hear someone approaching the door. Shortly the door opened and a young brunette with crystal green eyes looked at them. Joxers nose clip chose this moment to fly from its perch. Landing on the ground, directly in front of the young woman. "Sorry.", Was his only comment. Xena rolled her eyes at Joxer, then she turned to face the young woman again. "Excuse us, but we need to speak with the gentleman of the house." The woman at the door regarded them silently for a moment then spoke, "My father is ill, Im afraid he cant have any visitors right now." Xena looked at the woman with compassion then replied, "I gathered as much. Im Xena, and this is Gabrielle and Joxer. Weve come to help if we can." The woman seemed unconvinced but relented, "Im Sharra. Im not sure what can be done. Are you healers?" Xena thought for a moment, "Something like that. Can we see him?"
Sharra admitted the group into the small house. Inside it was sparse, but neat. Sharra seamed to take great pride in her home. Her father was lying on a small bed in one corner of the house. He was writhing in anguish. Xena had never seen someone so terrified. Whatever had happened to him, Xena thought, had been real enough as far as the man was concerned. He looked to be old. He had white hair and a white beard. Looking at Sharra, she guessed that the man was no way near his apparent age. Xena walked to the man, and sat on a low stool next to him. She took his face in both hands and looked into his eyes. He fought her, but was too weak now to offer more than a token resistance to her ministrations. What she saw in his eyes confirmed her earlier appraisal of his condition. His eyes were wild with fear. He appeared almost as a wild animal, trapped and panicked.
Xena knew of a few techniques, which might help the old man. She applied a pressure point first, intended to calm him down. After he stopped shaking uncontrollably, she began to speak to him in a low calm tone of voice. The old man began to respond to this soothing after a time. His breathing eased and slowed down to a more normal rhythm. His eyes stopped darting aimlessly in terror and began to fix on Xenas. Xena saw this and applied pressure to several other areas of his chest and neck. She worked carefully. Soon his face was relaxed and calm. Xena spoke softly and with deliberation. She needed answers, but she did not want to undo all that she had just done.
"Im Xena. What do they call you?" The man looked at her for a second and then slowly responded, "I.. They call me Argenius." Xena was feeling much more confident about the situation now. The single reply meant that the old man would probably recover completely. She paused for a second, considering her words, then asked, "I know its difficult, but you are completely safe now. I have come to help you, but I need to know what happened to you. Youre a huntsman, so I think you have enough strength and courage to answer me. Now please, tell me what happened."
The old mans eyes widened, and for a moment, Xena thought she had gone too far. Then, the old mans eyes steadied and he began to relate his story, "There were ten of us. We had intended to hunt a herd of wild stag on the northern edge of the wood. We had been getting some good results for a day or so, when we decided to track a few stragglers a bit deeper into the woods. We spent a few hours going toward the center of the wood. We noticed that there were fewer and fewer animals in the area we were in. Not even insect noises, no birds, nothing. We decided to camp for the night. Thats when we started to hear the noises. These werent the normal forest noises I was used to. High pitched jabbering, a low growling voice, and a low droning grumbling sound which seemed to pervade the entire wood." The man took a moment to reflect, while Xena realized that these were probably the very same noises that she had heard the preceding night. The old man drew a deep breath and continued, "Well, we got a bit nervous and decided to put on an all night watch. My best friend "Gorlam" had the last watch. When we woke up however, he was nowhere to be seen. We decided to spread out and look for him. We went in groups of two and three. I was paired with "Ixam", my nephew. We started searching. I decided to check out an area of rocky hills nearby. I thought perhaps, that he had wandered off in the middle of the night to do some business and had fallen in a cave opening. I had found a cave entrance, and had decided to check it out myself while Ixam continued to look around outside. Ixam never could stand caves. So, I entered the cave, and thats when I heard the noise strongest. It sounded like very small children chattering so rapidly that you couldnt really make out what they were saying. Im not even sure what language it was. The cave was pitch black. The only light was a small glow from the entrance. I fumbled around for a few minutes, exploring a small side tunnel when I saw them.
The old man almost seized up again at this point. Xena stroked his temples, and soothed him. In a few minutes he was able to continue, "I I saw eyes. It looked like thousands of them, staring at me, glowing reddish yellow from the darkness. I first thought it was bats, then I realized that they were too low to the ground. And they were getting closer. In the shadows of the cave, and the little light there was from the candle I had brought, I saw glimpses of leathery wings, horns and fangs. I turned and ran. I dont think I had ever run so fast in my life. I had almost reached the entrance to the main cave area when I ran into something, which wasnt there when I had come in. I held onto my candle as I fell to the floor. As I sat up, I noticed in the dim candlelight, a pair of feet in front of me. They were huge. I slowly brought up the candle to see a large purplish colored creature standing over me. It had giant bat-like wings, foot long horns, claws, fangs and a foul smelling breath. I barely remember scrambling through the creatures legs and out of the cave. I dont remember how I got back to the village, but I never saw anyone else from my hunting party again."
After his explanation, Xena applied another pressure point, sending the old man into a deep restful sleep. Xena had heard many wild tales in her life. She had met many madmen, even dated a few she thought with some amusement, but she had never seen a man so firmly convicted of what he saw. This man had seen things, which had probably cost him years of his life. She had no doubt that his experience was true to his telling. Her only question was exactly what he had seen. Demons, she thought. If the man had truly run afoul of one of Dahoks minions, let alone many of them, he would not have survived to tell the tale.
After she had completed what she needed to do to help the old man, Xena walked back to the group who had by now gathered at a small table in the corner of the house. She sat down and rubbed her head. "Sharra, your father should be alright after a good long sleep. I gave him a chance to understand what he saw, and relate it to someone. This allowed him to rationalize it to himself."
Sharra leaned over to pass some fresh rolls to Joxer. This caused Joxer some consternation as his baser instincts came to the fore. Gabrielle noticed this and just for an instant, Xena thought she detected a bit of jealousy in her friend. Sharra re-seated herself and asked, "Do you really think he saw what he says he saw?" Xena decided to be honest with the girl, "Yes, I think he did. Im not quite sure what he actually saw, but I think to him at least, his story is accurate. Its amazing that he survived at all."
Sharra looked a bit surprised, but then her face took on an accepting look, "So what are you going to do, hunt down the Demons?" Xena smiled, "Thats exactly what I plan to do. I dont know if theyre demons or not, but something is in those woods, and I plan on finding out what." With that, they enjoyed a very silent meal and retired for the evening.
That night, with the moon spilling light through the window, Xena was awakened by those same noises. The high-pitched noises were more prevalent this time. Xena had just about decided to ignore them and return to sleep when she heard another noise. Something was skittering across the roof. Scrabbling noises, as if made by some enormous squirrel, were moving above her. This she could not ignore. She climbed out of bed and awakened Gabrielle with a gentle shake. The two moved slowly and retrieved their weapons.
Xena had decided not to awaken Joxer. She felt that she would soon have enough to deal with, without having to protect him as well.
The noises seemed to be coming from the front part of the small house, so Xena decided to exit from the back window and move around to the front. Gabrielle volunteered to climb up the back of the house to the roof. The Moon was low in the sky, and the resulting darkness afforded them some protection.
They made their exit and Xena started around the house as Gabrielle climbed up to the top of the house, using her sais as climbing spikes. Gabrielle immediately ducked low behind the peak of the roof as she saw a small shadowy figure scurry across the roof just on the other side of the peak. She halted for another few moments, allowing her eyes to fully adjust to the darkness. Meanwhile, Xena had secreted herself behind a small wood cupboard next to the house, and was observing something at the edge of the clearing. She could see two very large shadowy figures, which seemed to be conversing somehow with two very small creatures. She did notice however that both the large and small ones sported proportionally large sets of leathery wings. Beyond that however, she could not discern much detail in the darkness. Xena decided to hold off on a direct confrontation until she knew more about what she was dealing with. As she watched the proceedings for a few minutes, all of the figures seemed to blend back into the forest.
By this time, Gabrielle had worked up enough nerve to take a cautious look over the peak and see what it was that had been moving around there. She carefully climbed up and peered over the edge. She saw absolutely nothing. The roof was empty. It was then that both Xena and Gabrielle heard a startled scream coming from within the house. Readying their weapons, they made ready for a fight.
Xena was moving within a heartbeat of hearing the scream, while Gabrielle merely allowed herself to slide back down the rear part of the roof. Once Gabrielle was at the edge, she slid partially off the edge and caught the eves with her sais, swinging into the window and landing in a fighting crouch.
Xena reached the door in less than a second. She burst through and immediately felt something small and soft bounce off of her armor. At the same time, Gabrielle came bounding through the back window and Xena could barely make out the small object stop in between them.
Sharra recovered her wits enough to light the small lantern next to her bed, casting a usable glow throughout the small area of the house.
There, in the middle of the main room, right between Xena and Gabrielle, squatted what Xena originally took to be a young child. She was obviously female, had large leathery wings and small, blunted horns on her head. Other than that, she had the appearance of a very small girl in her mid teens. The creature looked terrified, and was rubbing a small bruise on her right arm. She looked up to Xena and uttered a single word "Ouch!"
Of Demons and Damsels
Xena and Gabrielle stood covering the only two exits to the small hut. Light from the now rising sun was filtering in through the partially opened door and window. Sharra, the houses mistress stood, staring in shocked fascination at what was currently sitting, whimpering softly in the middle of the floor between Xena and Gabrielle. The creature did indeed seem to be some kind of demon. It was definitely female. Xena guessed it to be no more than five feet in height, probably a lot less. It was difficult for her to judge while it sat on the floor. It had two leathery wings, which were currently folded neatly behind its back. The creature had two small nubby horns, which protruded slightly just above the hairline. Its eyes were a piercing green, and it had two very pointy fangs, which shown slightly from under its top lip. Xena thought that other than the wings, fangs and horns, the creature could be human. It did not possess the cloven hooves, which she normally associated with demons, nor did it boast the unnaturally contorted facial features, which all demons she had met seemed to possess in some degree. It wore a small black skirt and halter, both made of some kind of leather. Across its back, nestled safely between its wings, Xena could see the hilt of some kind of short sword. She also noted that the workmanship of the blades hilt was of a very fine quality, and extremely unusual design. Around the waist, was slung a belt, attached to which, were some of the oddest bits and pieces that Xena had ever seen. A small box on the creatures left side had a small blue light, which was blinking on and off. On the other side, hung another device, which looked somewhat like a crossbow with its bolt removed. Xenas instincts told her that this too, was a weapon of some kind. The creature sat there regarding them for what seemed to Xena like ages.
Xena stood waiting, her sword drawn, wondering what to do when the creature looked at her, and in a voice like that of an adolescent girl with a cold, said, "So, you gonna put that big pointy thing away and let me go or what? I got stuff to do you know."
Xena thought she had been prepared for anything, but the matter of fact tone of the creature, combined with the audacity of the statement, given the creatures current situation, gave her pause to think. She carefully and slowly replaced her sword and inquired, "Just what manner of Demon are you creature?
The creature tilted her head slightly, studying all of the rooms occupants. She scratched her head a little and replied, "Demon? Whats a Demon? Im just a little Reed. Now are you guys gonna let me go before the big-uglies come back or not."
Xena was confused by this point, and Gabrielle and Sharra were faring no better. Before Xena had a chance to say anything, Gabrielle had to ask, "Reed? Whats a Reed? And where in Hades did you come from?"
The Reed looked from Xena to Gabrielle. "Finally a few intelligent questions. Okay, first, Im a Reed. Thats just what I am. I dont think you could understand just where my people came from. But as for how we are here, Ill tell you. It all started a few months ago. We were on a ship. No, not that kind of ship, our ships dont cross oceans or seas, they cross the vast distances between the stars themselves. We travel from world to world, exploring. Our ship was heading for a world some distance from here. We were going to study that world to see if there were any interesting prospects for mining there. But we got jumped by some scum-ball, Nalon ships on the way and our ship was damaged. So we had to set down here for repairs. The ship was pretty banged up, so its taking some time to mine metals and make parts. Anyways, we have strict rules about to being discovered by primitive life forms, so we have been trying to keep your people away from our site by scaring them with monster noises. Thats pretty easy since your people seem to be terrified by the big-uglies. We came here to check on the geezer in the other room. We had to temporarily detain the others he was with, but he got away. We just wanted to see if he was alright and make sure no-one believed him. But then we find you guys here. Can I go now?"
Gabrielle tried to take in everything the Reed said, but she still had a few questions. "Big-Uglies?"
The Reed sighed and continued, "They are the ones who actually crewed the ship. Another race, they look like really big, ugly Reeds, so we call them the big-uglies. They are actually called Altons. They come from a different world than ours. They look really scary to some folks, yours included, so we use em to scare people away. Actually most of them are real pussycats. Just stay away from em when they are drunk. Can I go now?"
Xena looked to Gabrielle, "Gabrielle, I think we need to talk to whoever is in charge of these Reeds. We cant have them scaring the locals. The farmers cant work and people are starving."
Gabrielle walked over to a low wooden stool and sat down, still somewhat blocking the small window. "I agree, maybe we can work out some kind of agreement with them so the farmers can get back to work."
Xena nodded and looked back to the Reed, "Do you have a name? Or do I just keep calling you Reed? And you can go, but we are going with you."
The Reeds eyes went wide for a moment, and Xena thought that it might bolt so kept her hand close to her Chakram. It settled in a few moments and replied, "Im Nicki Reed. And I dont think it would be a good idea to bring you back with me. Id be in big trouble with Reeda."
Sharra, who had remained silent until now, spoke softly, "Whos Reeda?"
Nicki looked to Sharra and shook her head as she answered, "Reeda? Whos Reeda?!? Sheesh, you people dont know anything do you? Reeda, as in Reed-A, shes our queen, the first Reed. Shed have a hissy fit if I come back with natives We have enough of you guys to feed and such as it is. You guys eat almost as much as the Big-Uglies. And were low on supplies as it is."
Xena moved closer to the Reed. Smiling calmly. She knelt down on one knee and placed a hand on Nickis shoulder. "Dont worry little one, we wont stay all that long. You see, your scaring people so much that if we dont do something, a lot of people are going to starve to death, and plagues could start as a result. So I need to work something out with your Queen."
Nicki looked at Xenas hand, and for a moment Xena was pondering the wisdom of placing it on her shoulder. Then Nicki smiled, letting the rooms occupants see just how sharp and pointy those fangs of hers were. "Okay, but she probably wont even talk to you. Shes royalty and usually only talks to other royalty, unless shes giving orders and such.."
Xena smiled again and replied, while carefully removing her had from within fang range, "Oh then there will be no problem. Im a warrior princess and Gabrielle is the Queen of the Amazons."
At that, the reed shot bolt upright and took a deep bow. Once she had stopped bowing, she looked between Gabrielle and Xena, "Why didnt you two say so?!? Come on, get your stuff, itll take a while to get there since you cant fly."
"Fly?!?" came Gabrielles startled response.
Nicki chuckled, "Yes, fly, as in the air. You dont think these wings are just here for show. Our maker decided that since we were so small, we needed a better way to cross large distances, so he gave us these wings. Now hurry or we wont get there by sundown."
It took only a few minutes for Xena, and Gabrielle to collect their belongings and prepare for their journey. They were about to leave when Gabrielle had a revelation, "JOXER!"
Gabrielle went running into the curtained off area that Joxer was using to sleep. She was afraid that perhaps one of the "Big-Uglies" had carried him away into the night. When she threw back the curtain however, her eyes fell upon the sleeping form of Joxer. Unfortunately, it was this time that Gabrielle learned an important fact about Joxer, he liked to sleep in the nude
The Reed came up next to Gabrielle and stared. Nicki grinned at the look on Gabrielles face and said, "Now THATS what I call a BIG-UGLY!"
Gabrielle tore down the curtain and threw it over Joxer. She then walked over to the kitchen area and drew a bit of water from the small pitcher there. After that, she walked back to Joxer.
Xena stood outside the door to the small stable, next to the house, waiting for Joxer and Gabrielle. She was just finishing up the arrangements for Argo and Amber. She decided that it would be safer for the horses to stay at the house. Sharra had promised to take care of them in return for what they had done for their father, who blessedly, was still asleep. Sharra was happy for this. She doubted that her father was yet strong enough mentally, to deal with their new, small friend. Xena had just tethered Argo in her stall when she heard a scream and a few minutes later, Gabrielle and Joxer walked through the door, accompanied by a very amused looking Reed.
"Alright Nicki, which way is your camp?"
Nicki looked up to the sun and around the small clearing, then began to walk in the direction of a small stream. The stream had a very small footbridge over it, which the group crossed. They then entered the wood. Xena kept her senses alert. She was pretty sure that they were being watched, but she didnt sense the strange noises, which accompanied Nickis people.
"Someone is watching us." She said to Nicki in a low voice. "Is it your folk?"
Nicki sniffed at the air and seemed to listen intently for a moment. "No, not us. Big Uglies smell sort of funny, no smell and the watcher is upwind of us. Smells like humans. No other Reeds around either. They wont try and rescue me til nightfall. Want me to go see if I can find who is watching us?"
Xena decided to take a chance. "Alright. But dont hurt anyone."
Nicki smiled, "No Problemo!" and faded from view so quietly and quickly that it startled Xena.
Gabrielle noticed the disappearing act and asked, "Xena, where did Nicki go?"
"She went to find out whos watching us."
Gabrielle just nodded. "I just hope they dont hurt her."
The group kept walking in the same direction as the Reed had been leading them. A few hundred yards further along the road, they came upon a disquieting site. Nicki stood there, polishing her fingernails with a small piece of metal. At her feet, slumped in a pile, were three men. They were not moving, or making any sounds. Xena rushed forward to the Reed.
"Nicki, I told you NOT to hurt anyone!"
Nicki grinned, "I didnt hurt them, I just gave them a little snickt. They should be coming around in a little while. Want to wait and see if we can get any information out of them? I didnt have time to question them. They tried to shoot me with one of their pointy stick thingies."
Xena was a bit confused, "Snickt them?"
The Reed smiled and as Xena watched, her fangs extended to about 6 inches in length. A pale bluish liquid dropped from the tip of one fang. Nicki retracted them then and continued, "Snickt. Our fangs produce a pretty strong venom. I cant explain to you what it is, but it basically knocks humans out like a light for some time, depending on how much we inject. The fangs can penetrate any known type of armor. I didnt give them enough to do any permanent damage, but wowzers, are they gonna have a case of pins and needles when they come to."
Xena felt she understood, "I see, your venom behaves like a pressure point hit. It blocks the nerves connecting the brain to the rest of the body. Alright, well wait until they come to. It sure beats dragging them around with us."
The Reed looked surprised, her eyes widening to almost twice their normal size. "Boy, for a totally primitive culture, on a back woods planet, in a practically prehistoric temporal zone, you guys sure do catch on fast."
Xena took the unintended insults in stride as they waited for the three men to come to. While they waited, Xena took the liberty of binding them to a large tree and removing all of their weapons. They were clothed as the men in the village had been. Xena noticed that on each mans clothes; a small gray cross had been roughly sewn to their jerkins. "I think they work for that priest. I bet he put them up to this. Nicki, I want to save some time when they come around, so follow my lead and well get the information faster."
Nicki looked to Xena with pure mischief in her eyes, "Okay, youre the boss. This is gonna be fun if your thinking what I think your thinking."
The men finally started to revive after about half an hour. They seemed to be partially coherent and unable to move completely. Xena walked to one of them and leaned down as she spoke. "Now, I want to know who sent you and why?"
The man looked up at her with glazed eyes. He took a moment to stop drooling and focused on Xena. "I will tell you nothing witch. The father said you would surely begin to consort with these vile creatures. You will learn nothing from us."
Xena smiled in a way, which Gabrielle knew all too well. She held the mans face up and continued. " Now, if you hadnt noticed, you are tied to a tree with no weapons. Also, you are barely able to move. I, on the other hand, am fully armed, at a total advantage, and have a very, very hungry demon over there. One who would love some woodsmans stew, made with real woodsman, of course." Xena motioned with he thumb to the Reed a few yards away. She had fastened one of Argos leads to it, as if it were on a leash. The Reed was having a grand old time, pretending to be practically rabid. Nicki growled and let out wild whooping noises, occasionally making a feint toward the men tied to the tree. Gabrielle held the lead and pretended to just be losing ground in her attempt to hold the ravening beast from its intended dinner.
The man looked at this site and turned white. He managed to twist to one side and throw up on the legs of one of the other men, who had not yet returned to consciousness. He looked back to Xena after this and began to stutter. "Y .you wouldnt. I mean, that thing . Y.. You just wouldnt "
Xena put on a most diabolical grin as she replied. "Why not? The beast is hungry and since you refuse to give us the information we need, well, you are of no use to us. I would rather have the beast eat a useless slog such as you, than one of us in the middle of the night. I dont think it had fed for quite some time when we caught it. It must be practically starving by now."
A short while later, Xena and her group, led by a very amused Reed, continued along their way. The information provided to them by the three men, still securely tied to a tree a ways back, was very valuable. She had made sure that when the men finally regained all of their motor skills, they would be able to quickly untie themselves. She was sure however, that they would not try and follow her expedition again.
The interrogation had cost them some time. The Reed was moving surprisingly fast for a creature with such short legs. Nicki seemed to scamper along in a blur at times. Finally stopping at the opposite edge of the forest. Nicki turned to Xena, "Alright, after we leave the forest, we go a few hundred yards into some low hills. You hold at the base of the hills. I need to go ahead and announce you so the Big-Uglies dont blast you. They tend to get a bit paranoid when people get too close to the ship."
Xena nodded in agreement, and the group headed out of the wood. It only took a short time to reach the base of the hills. Xena and the others sat down and rested, while Nicki headed into the hills. A long time passed. Xena took the time to sharpen her Chakram and sword. Joxer was attempting to clean some rust off of his short sword. An activity which was frequently interrupted by glances at Gabrielle as she practiced with her sais. The sun was very low now, and night was fast approaching.
Xena was becoming concerned. Nicki should have had ample time to reach her people and explain. Xena was about to organize a search for her small friend when a sound caught her attention. A deep, almost growling voice, "Stand up quietly and slowly. Leave your weapons on the ground."
Xena instantly determined that the source of the voice was somewhere in the dark part of a small outcropping of trees on the hill next to them, strategically, and tactically, a very good position. "And if I refuse?"
As in answer, a large nearby boulder seemed to glow for a second, then exploded into particles no larger than fine sand.
Xena had never seen a weapon or even a god, capable of such destruction. "Alright, you seem to have us at a pretty much, complete disadvantage."
Xena did as asked, and instructed Gabrielle and Joxer to do the same. They left all of their weapons on the ground and stood slowly. Xena soon heard the voice again, "And the breast dagger "
This surprised Xena, as the small weapon was not visible at all. She removed it from its hiding place and placed it carefully on the ground next to her sword and chakram.
As soon as she had returned to a standing position, she could see shadows moving in the trees on all sides. She hadnt seen or heard their approach and reluctantly had to give them due credit for their stealthy appearance and approach. She noticed their size. As they came closer, she was forced to re-appraise her opinion on their sheer size. The smallest of them seemed to be over nine feet in height. They wore some kind of armor. It was made of a material, which Xena had never seen before. They carried some devices in their arms, which Xena took to be weapons. They also seemed to know exactly how to use them to best effect. Xena judged these creatures to be warriors, and very skilled and experienced ones at that.
The largest of the creatures approached her. She could see markings on its armor. These marks seemed to be more than merely painted on. There was a herald of sorts over the left breast, a twin set of diamond shaped figures, interlocked above and below each other. Some strange symbols, just below this ensign, and other symbols adorned the right breast. The armor was deepest black, the logo was done in gold and silver, while the rest of the markings were in a deep violet. The armor covered the creature from head to toe, leaving no detail of the being inside. The armor even covered the obvious wings, which protruded from the back of the creatures.
Xena decided to take a somewhat direct approach. As the creature neared, she looked at it and spoke, "So you are Altons. Nicki told us about you. We come in peace, to treat with Queen Reeda."
The Alton stopped a few feet away, towering over Xena, and bending slightly to look her in the face. Xena could not tell what the monster was thinking. She only hoped for a benign reaction. She watched as the creature stood erect once more and bellowed some orders to his men. He then turned to face her once more. "It is not easy to catch a Reed as easily as you did, especially that one. She has informed us of your presence. Queen Reeda has agreed to speak with you. You will forgive our caution, however, we will return your weapons when Reeda clears you. In the mean time, we are to take you back to our base."
Xena breathed a silent sigh of relief. "Is it a far walk? We have been on the road all day."
The Alton laughed, a very unpleasant sound, which hurt the ears. "Walk Nicki has had you marching in the wrong direction all day. She had inviolable orders not to bring any natives near the camp. She waited until she could get away, and then flew to the camp to inform us. If we were to walk, it would take days to get there. No, we will fly you there. We have brought transport. Follow me. I am Garex, by the way."
Xena smiled. She felt as if she had learned an important lesson. The Reed had promised to take them to her base, however, she had not said how. Xena had mistaken small size for low intelligence. Nicki had managed to fulfill her promise, without violating her orders.
Garex motioned her group to follow, so Xena, Gabrielle, and Joxer, followed the giants around the trees. On the other side, Xena saw what looked like a chariot of some kind. Yet it had no wheels, or horses. It seemed to hover a foot or so off the ground. The Altons had already begun to pack into a second one, parked nearby. Garex climbed in and motioned for them to do the same. Joxer, by this time, was rendered speechless.
Once all of the passengers were inside of the contraption, it rose several feet into the air and moved at an increasing velocity to the west.
The Skimmer flitted between hills and woodlands. It moved at what was to Xena and her group, an unbelievable rate of speed. They must have covered over a hundred leagues in less than a half an hour. The ride was incredibly smooth, and the vehicle gave very little sensation of their speed. Joxer didnt even get chariot sick, which made Xena feel much better. She watched as Garex used a set of simple controls set into a panel in front of his seat to direct the "Skimmer" as he called it. A stick under his right hand seemed to control up and down as well as the side-to-side direction of the skimmer. A series of levers in between the two front seats seemed to control the vehicles speed. The skimmer was obviously designed for the much more massive frames of the Altons. Xena and her group fairly swam in the well-cushioned seats.
They were just clearing a low set of hills when Xena decided to see if she could get Garex to give her some information. A few things still confused her, and if she was going to be dealing with some kind of Royalty, she wanted all the information she could get.
"Garex, can I ask you a couple of questions?"
Garex turned slightly, then looked back to his task as he spoke, "I will answer what I can. Understand, our laws do not allow us to give certain information to more primitive species."
Garex said this in a matter of fact voice, so Xena decided that he meant no insult by it. He merely stated things as they were, and Xena had to agree. Compared to even the small demonstrations of the power these people wielded, which she had seen so far, the power of even her Chakram was pale. She thought up her questions carefully.
"Okay. Well, first off, how did your people learn to speak our language so well? You couldnt have been here that long."
Garex chuckled before replying. "We do not speak your language at all. With so many different races in our empire, it would be impossible to learn all of the languages we would need. So our people developed a device, which allows us to communicate in any language. It is called a Linguistic Processor. Some just call it a Translator. You are actually hearing my thoughts. You would not understand the technology behind it, so I will explain it no farther. It works, that is all that matters. All of our crew have one. You will have no difficulty being understood."
Xena seemed satisfied. Long ago, she had learned that some things had to be taken on faith. Gabrielle had taught her that. She sat quietly for a moment, watching the hills pass beneath them in the dimming twilight.
"How many of you are here?"
Garex hesitated a moment, then spoke, "I suppose there is no harm in answering that. The Altons you saw tonight are the ships anti-piracy and defense contingent, ten of us in all. There are twenty Reeds and twelve Humans. Our mission was not supposed to last this long, so we have a few more aboard than the ship was supposed to handle. The sooner we get home, the happier we will be."
Xena thought on this development. Humans on their ship
"Humans you say I thought you come from a different world? How would you have Humans on your ship?"
Garex snorted, "I see Nicki didnt tell you everything. Our ship was built on another world that is true, the world known as Relanne. But you see, we also come from a different time. Our vessel was thrown backwards in time by several centuries. In our time, your world is a part of a great interstellar empire. The captain of our ship is actually from your world, but not your time."
This actually surprised Xena. Just then, she realized something. While they had been speaking, Garex had been changing course. They had not been heading west for some time. Xena could no longer tell where they where, or where they were heading. "Oh well", she thought, "Sound military strategy, never let an unknown know the exact position of a sensitive and vulnerable military installation."
The rest of the trip passed quietly. Xena worked out her plan on how to approach the Queen when they met. Finally they passed over one more low hill and were treated to an awesome site.
On the ground, there was a large, long, scar. At its end, sitting gracefully, like some giant bird, was what Xena felt, had to be their ship. It was enormous, at least two hundred meters in length. It was larger than four of Greeces largest Galleys, laid end to end. It was colored black, and stood out proudly in the light put off by their approaching skimmer. It bore the same markings as the armor, which the Altons wore. Around it was a scene of frantic activity. Reeds and Humans were working rapidly and with great purpose. The settled the skimmers down about thirty feet from the long sleek nose of the ship and exited.
Once on the firm ground again, Xena felt reassured. She was afraid that she would find an armed camp. Instead of that, she found a well-organized repair operation. She even noted, with some surprise, some of the missing villagers, happily working side by side with the ships crew.
Garex moved up beside Xena, "Surprised Xena? As the Reed must have told you, we only brought them here for our safety. No one has been harmed here. When we leave, they are free to go as they please. Now, if you will follow me, I will take you to see Queen Reeda. Keep in mind that Reeda is only Queen of one of the Dominions many worlds. She is the ranking civilian authority here, but you will probably also wish to speak with the Captain., she is the one in command of this mission and the ship."
Xena nodded at Garex and followed him towards the great ship.
Xena felt herself awed. Whatever expectations she might have had about the ship were completely understated. Garex led her to a spot on the hull of the ship; he touched a small blue circle, which looked to be painted on the hull. After touching the circle, a large aperture appeared in the side of the ship, accompanied by an odd sound, and a slight whoosh of air. Garex proceeded through the opening, followed closely by Xena. Inside, Xena could see smoothly polished metal, carpeted floors, and the occasional bit of artwork lining the short corridor she was in. At even intervals along the walls, she could see what looked to be hatches or doorways into other parts of the ship.
Garex led her through three corridors and finally stopped at a large metal door. He removed something from a pouch in his armor and placed it in a circular depression next to the door. There was a hum and a dim glow when the object contacted the depression, then the large doors parted.
Xena and her group followed him through the doors, into what must have been the bridge or wheelhouse for the ship. The room was shaped like a "v". There were two levels to the bridge. On the lower level, consoles and strange devices lined the outside perimeter. In the front of the bridge, both of the sloping walls seemed to be made of some transparent, glass-like substance and Xena could see out over the nose of the ship. On the second level were a few more stations and a large central chair. There were about twenty people of varying races, doing tasks all around the room. In the large central chair, sat a woman. Xena could not see her features from her current angle, but Garex was proceeding up towards the chair, and Xena assumed that she was to follow.
At the top of the stairs, Garex stopped short of the central chair and stood at attention. He snapped a very sharp salute and spoke to the figure in the chair. "Captain, Garex reporting. We have brought the delegates to see Queen Reeda. I thought you might like to speak with them first. They are unarmed and appear to be friendly."
Xena watched as the figure in the chair rose and turned to face her group. Joxers jaw nearly dropped to the floor. Gabrielle, who had been very quiet, ever since boarding the skimmer, elbowed him in the ribs. Xena looked at the woman before her. She was strikingly beautiful. She stood about five feet, ten inches in height. Her hair was even blacker than her own and her eyes were an almost silver, blue. She had the kind of figure that could stop a mans heart.
The captain gracefully descended the two steps to the deck, level with Xena and the rest of her group. She seemed to study them for a few moments and then smiled brightly. Joxer tried to elbow past Xena, but her elbow was stronger as she daintily placed it in a place Joxer could not ignore. The captain seemed to be amused by this and spoke to Garex first. "Excellent job Garex. You and your men must be tired, so go take a few hours rest, get some food, and then help the repair parties. With any luck, we will be ready to leave ahead of schedule. The natives have been invaluable."
Garex placed his closed left fist over his right breast in salute ass he replied. "Thank you captain. The men are rather tired, and a few hours sleep will do them good. By your leave?"
The captain returned the salute then; "Dismissed commander."
Garex walked back down the steps and out of the same hatch they had entered through a few minutes before. Once he had left, the captain turned her attention back to Xena and her friends.
"I am captain Jenna Tolliver, of the Imperial Dominion Star Fleet. Since youre not military, you can call me Captain or just Jenna, which I would much prefer. Welcome to the Angel."
Xena looked the woman over, and came to a few immediate conclusions. First, she decided, that this woman was no frilly schoolgirl, despite her startling beauty. Xena felt that the woman could take on Ares himself and probably win. The ships captain seemed to exude large amounts of the kind of confidence, which only came from a long and successful career leading men. She had a grace and dignity, which completely belied her apparent youth, for the woman, appeared as if she could not be over the age of 18 years. Finally, she decided, most importantly, that she trusted and liked the Captain.
Jenna walked over to Xena, every step a lesson in balance and grace. She looked once around her bridge and then took Xenas hand in hers. "I hope our method for getting you here did not upset you. A lot of younger races have problems dealing with air travel, and a battle skimmer can be a bit bumpy in terrain such as this area."
Xena looked to Jenna, amused at the thought of her getting motion sickness. "No, it was quite exciting actually. I had dreams of being able to fly as a child. It was like reliving them. But I still dont understand a few things, and I was hoping you could enlighten me."
Jenna walked over to a set of low observation seats near the back of the bridge, motioning Xena and her companions to follow her as she spoke. "Im glad to hear that, and yes, I will try to fill in any blanks you may have. That is, all of them which I can, without compromising our orders or laws of non-interference."
They reached the seats and Jenna motioned them all to sit down. Once seated, Xena could almost picture the vantage point this seat would offer when the ship was in flight. There were ten seats, arranged in a slightly curved arc along the back end of the bridge, but set slightly higher then the main bridge deck. So anyone sitting here could overlook all of the bridges operations and activity, as well as have an unrestricted or impaired view out of the transparent part of the bridge in the front. Xena thought that the view would be absolutely awe-inspiring. She settled into the seat which was amazingly comfortable, and seemed to conform itself exactly to her features and size. Jenna was the last to seat herself. Having chosen a seat in roughly the middle of Xenas group. She relaxed with a small sigh and continued. "Alright, thats better. Now what can I try and tell you?"
Xena thought for a moment, then asked. "Im not sure if you are aware of this, but your activities in the area, are doing some serious damage to the local villages. The people of these villages rely on hunting and farming to eat, and with your policy of scaring people off the surrounding lands, they are beginning to starve."
Jenna looked appalled. She sat far back in her chair and let out her breath in rather
rude noise. She then placed one slender finger to her forehead and spoke. "We
didnt know that. We had assumed that the locals would have had some reserve, at
least enough to last while we were here. This news changes quite a bit. I will have to
come up with some way to feed these people without them finding out. What kinds of foods
do they generally eat?"
Xena thought for a moment, tapping one finger on her chin before replying. "Hmm, pigs, lambs, chickens, all wild, which they hunt. They also normally grow different grains and berries. But the food problem isnt the only problem. The men you have been holding are sorely missed. So in addition to having to work with less and less food, the remaining villagers are having to work harder to take up the slack."
Jenna seemed a bit flustered. She sat very still for a moment, as if trying to make up her mind about some important question. Finally she spoke; "Well, the men we dare not release yet, but there may be another way we can help. You have already met Nikki. We have some other reeds on board, and let me assure you, despite their rather odd nature and idiosyncrasies, they are very capable life forms. They can get into and out of places that no one else can, and they can just about always be counted on to complete an assigned mission. Thats the main reason we always make sure to have a few on every mission. This mission was technically an experimental first flight for the Angel, so we had a few more than normal aboard. We could use reeds to get food into the village at night. Our synth units can produce anything we need, and in fairly large amounts. We can also have them do some of the work the villagers would normally do, while they sleep. I know this will cause a bit of strange feelings with the villagers, but at least they wont starve until we leave."
Xena saw some sense in Jennas suggestion, but she knew it would be difficult. With people like the selfish priest she had recently encountered in charge of the local village, it would be more likely that he would get most of the food, leaving the others to eat the leftovers. She decided to share this with Jenna. "There is one more problem. The apparent leader of the closest village is a sanctimonious priest. Or at least thats what he calls himself. He has the nose of a Roman and the personality of an ill-tempered Hydra. And I would sooner trust the Hydra. He has the locals in that village thoroughly wrapped around his finger and he actually sent some people to follow us when we started here with Nikki. I think he could be a major problem if he finds you, he could cause some trouble for you."
Jenna looked mildly amused again. "Well, I have run into that type many times. They are usually cowards at heart. If they were to find us, and start trouble, it would be most unfortunate. We have weapons here that could destroy entire worlds. This is an exploration ship, but we are quite capable of taking care of ourselves. We would have to stun and pen up the whole population of this area. This is absolutely the last thing I want to have to do. However, you have to understand that my primary responsibility is to the safety of my ship and crew. I will not allow anything to compromise that duty."
Jenna, at the last part, had become very serious. Xena had no doubt that the Captain could, and would; fight fiercely to protect those in her charge. But Xena could not help but feel that something was going to happen soon. And she was not particularly anxious to find out what it was.
Xena and Jenna sat in silence for a few moments, each trying to reconcile the current facts with their individual goals. While they pondered their predicament, the hatch irised open and a small woman walked in. She was just slightly taller than Nikki, but was definitely of the same species. On her head sat a large gold and platinum crown, be speckled with jewels and intricate engravings. She wore a long gold and white gown, equally as gaudy and ostentatious. In her hands, she carried a small scepter.
Xena looked at the small figure, and immediately decided that the, to her, tackily dressed and almost comical personage, must be Reeda, queen of the reeds.
Reeda walked over to Xena and Jenna. She stood directly in front of Xena and seemed to be looking right through her. Then she sniffed the air a few times, like a hunting hound, getting the scent of its quarry. The other members of Xenas party seemed amused at her entrance. The small reed had almost tripped herself three times walking up to the seating area. Fortunately even Joxer thought it would not be a good idea to openly laugh at her.
Gabrielle, being the eternal diplomat, slowly began pinching Joxers arm in warning, then slowly stood and bowed to the Queen of the reeds. "Oh great and wise Reeda, I Gabrielle, queen of the Amazons, do bring you greetings from my peoples."
Reeda looked over the group, her eyes passing over Gabrielle and stopping on Joxer, who was sitting quietly, rubbing a small bruise where Gabrielle had pinched his arm. Xena decided to let her friend deal with Reeda, since Gabrielle seemed to have the situation in hand.
Reeda walked up to Joxer and took hold of his arm as she spoke; "Hi, Im Reeda, Queen of the reeds. You get a booboo?"
Joxer looked up at Reeda. He suddenly became very nervous. Reeda looked into his eyes and smiled, revealing a set of fangs, even larger than Nikkis. She rubbed his sore arm and then very carefully extended the tip of one of her fangs slightly and scratched the surface of his arm, right over the bruise.
Joxer froze in horror as he saw the fang get close to his arm, then felt a tiny bit of pressure. He saw a tiny clear droplet touch his skin at the site, then the pain from the bruise suddenly subsided. The middle part of his forearm felt somewhat numb and sluggish, but the pain was gone.
Jenna noticed his discomfort and commented; "Dont worry, the venom they produce is a very useful anesthetic. That is, it relieves pain in low dosages. We sometimes use it ourselves in emergencies. If someone is seriously hurt, the pain can drive them into shock if not dampened, so the nearest reed usually gives the person a small bite and then the patient is safe from shock until we can get them to the medical center."
Joxer half heard the explanation, and then quietly said "Thanks."
Reeda seemed pleased with this and turned her attention to Gabrielle. "Queen of the Amazons eh. You look more like a bard. Oh well, this time frame always was kind of strange. Nikki said you guys are okay, so I guess Ill talk to you." Why dont we go to the commissary and get some food?"
Jenna looked at Reeda before speaking, a sly look in her eye; "Reeda, I am sure they are all tired and hungry. Perhaps we should all go get some food and then I will assign these good people some quarters so they can get some sleep. We can continue our discussions in the morning."
Xena nodded. At that instant, the mere mention of food was making her hungry. The last food her group had eaten had been almost 36 hours ago and they were starting to feel the effects. And, at that moment, sleep was another of Xenas favorite concepts. "Thats a very good idea. Is there some place on this ship where you can get a good bowl of lamb stew"
Jenna rose to her feet and motioned the group to follow her. They proceeded back through the bridge access corridor into a large room with finely appointed furnishings. Xena could recognize the furniture for the most part. A very simple and elegant bed sat against the far wall. Several low chairs and footrests were scattered liberally around the room. Decorative wall hangings depicting scenes of battle and landscapes adorned the walls. The ceiling features a large transparent dome, through which Xena could see the outside skies. Xena could imagine flying through an endless sea of stars, lying back in the ed and seeing them pass by the ceiling port in an endless parade of beauty. All of the furnishings, artwork, carpeting and wall colors, seemed to be designed to bring a sense of safety and tranquility to the rooms occupants. None were garish or overly done. Everything was simple, beautiful and very practical.
Xena marveled for a few moments, taking in the rooms aesthetics, then Jenna motioned her and her companions to a large table in one corner of the room. They were seated and then, she touched a small, lighted square, which seemed to be embedded into the surface of the table itself.
"Allow me to order for you? We have foods from over a million worlds available to us. I thought you might like to try a few of my favorites."
Xena thought then replied; "When in Rome", to which Gabrielle added "Run for the nearest exit!" while smiling.
Jenna said some strange words into the air as she held her finger on the small square of light. When through, she removed her finger and Xena seemed to hear it make a small single chirping noise.
"Now, while we wait, are there any other questions you have?" Asked Jenna.
Xena had a lot of questions, but she didnt want to overtax her host, so she chose one from her large mental list. "Well, just how much longer do you think it will take to complete your repairs?"
Jenna tapped another square on the table and said some more strange words, then, in mid air, above the table, a strange picture appeared. It was made up of charts and tables. The language was totally foreign to Xena. Jenna studied this strange display for a few moments, then tapped the square again, which caused the display to vanish back into thin air.
At noticing the look on the faces of Xena and her friends, Jenna quickly broke the ice; "Oh, forgive me. You have never seen a holo-display before. Its sort of like a scroll, but printed with light. We use special devices to record and store information. These keys allow me to retrieve any bit of our stored knowledge from anywhere on the ship and see them as you just saw them. With the amount of knowledge in our storage system, it would take a paper library several times the size of your world to hold everything. But to answer your question, I would estimate less than a week. The technicians have been so busy working, they havent had much time to update the repair logs."
Jenne went on to explain some of the more basic functions of the ships data network. Showing the group how to access any non-classified information from holographic entertainment to ships status reports and even star charts. A short time after her impromptu tutorial, another small chirp emitted from a small panel next to the door. Jenna looked up and quietly said "Come."
The door to the cabin opened and a large stacked trolley came in, being pushed by two reeds in strange white hats, which mildly reminded Xena of mushrooms.
"Just leave the trolley here guys." Jenna said to the reeds. After which they obediently pushed the trolley next to the table, smiled at Jenna, and scurried back out through the hatch.
Over the next few hours, Xena and her friends enjoyed a feast, like none they had ever had before. They were introduced to foods which defied description in their language, each seemingly better than the one before. Xena decided early on, that she had a real taste for two items in particular. One, which Jenna called Sanja was a meat of some sort. Jenna explained that it was the equivalent of beef on the planet on which her ship was built. It was a bluish color, sweet, lean and had an aroma, which she simply could not be described. The other, which Gabrielle also seemed to favor, was called Grailoch, and as Jenna explained was mostly a meat and vegetable dish, with special spices.
After what seemed like hours, the trolley was empty and Xena and her companions were feeling the need for a long rest. "Um, Jenna, would you mind showing us to those quarters you mentioned earlier? I think we would feel better if we were close to each other as well."
Jenna looked up at Xena, and Xena could tell that she too was in need of some sleep as she yawned and began to speak; "I think we all need some rest. I will put you in one of the officers suites. They have to bedchambers and a common area with a small kitchen."
This reminded Xena of something Garex had said and she decided to ask one more question as Jenna began to rise. "One more thin Jenna, Garex said you were short on supplies, so, how come we get this huge meal?"
Jenna again looked amused as she walked towards the hatch and replied; "Well when he left, we still didnt have main power back, so we couldnt use our synth units. We got that system back online this morning so we can now make our own food again. You see, what you just ate wasnt grown or raised. It was created using a special device that can create matter of a simple nature in any form we need, and in any amount within its capacity. But it uses a lot of power, so we needed the main power system to use it again."
"You mean what we just ate wasnt real?" Xena asked, astonished.
"Oh no, it was quite real, and exactly perfect, as it had been programmed in to be, but the actual matter of what you ate simply did not exist until the time I ordered the food and the machines had it created for us. Now if you will follow me, I will show you to your quarters before I fall asleep myself. It has been a very busy day for all of us."
Reeda who had remained quiet throughout the meal stood last. She followed the group out of Jennas stateroom and followed them down the corridor a few doors until Jenna showed the group into a suite of rooms, just slightly larger than her own. It was furnished and decorated in a manner which was similar to, but slightly less personalized than Jennas quarters.
"Well folks, here you go. If you need anything, just press any of the small violet colored sensors located around the room, and speak your wishes. I had the computer set up to handle your language. The bedrooms are through that hatch. Have a good rest and we will talk more in the morning. I have some more work to do before I get to bed so Ill leave you now."
Xena and the rest bade the Captain farewell, and found their way to the bedchambers. The beds were amazingly comfortable, and seemed to conform to each of their unique shapes. Gabrielle shared a room with Xena, leaving Joxer in his own chambers.
Gabrielle lay quietly watching the lights beyond the clear port on the wall across from her side of the bed. "Xena?"
Xena sighed; "Yes Gabrielle?"
"Do you trust these people? I mean, do you believe everything they have told us?"
"Yes Gabrielle. I dont think they would have any reason to lie to us. And besides, I trust that Captain. She sort of reminds me of me. And I cant get over a weird feeling that we have met before "
Xena and Gabrielle slept soundly. Xena dreamt of her younger days. She dreamt of her early career as the dreaded warlord. In her dreams she could see herself, at first in the third person, then as herself, residing in a golden palace, surrounded by the spoils of her conquests. A small fire within her began to glow, then rage. Her darker self, that which she continually battled for control of her life, always seemed to control her dreams. She thought of it as a necessary release, a way to control the uncontrollable, without risk to others in reality.
In her dream she sat resplendent. She lay in a large circular bed, floating amidst a sea of stars now. She felt desire, need, and want for something Something she could not allow herself to think about. Not really a something, but maybe, just maybe, a someone. Who, who was it. Who invaded her dreams, only for her to wake up at the last critical moment? She knew that she knew who it was, only she could not remember from night to night. This night she felt, would be no different. She would dream, and in the morning, she would remember barely anything. Only a sense of satisfaction mixed with trepidation would remain.
In her dream, she saw a figure approaching. Riding on a fiery horse. Wearing black, the stranger approached from an all-enveloping shadow. This, she thought, was new. The figure approached her, never once stepping into the light. She suddenly felt another presence next to her. She turned, her attention torn between the tall stranger approaching her and this new and much closer presence. She turned with relief, to see the beautiful face of her Soul mate Gabrielle, smiling down at her.
Her impulse was to turn back to the approaching stranger, however, she could not be torn from Gabrielle. They had literally shared life and death together. She had never been able to express to Gabrielle, or even to herself, her true feelings for the bard. She had feelings for her, which she was not sure about. Things she felt strange about, yet could not deny. Only she had to deny them. Yet in her dreams, she thought, perhaps she could express them.
Slowly, tenderly, she reached out to Gabrielle. She caressed her soft cheek and slowly, gently brought her face to meet hers. Gabrielle did not resist. Their lips met, and fire shot through Xena. Feelings of warmth, love and kindness mixed with something else, desire. A desire, burning like a million suns, flooded her soul. Her caress and kiss grew much more intense. Gabrielle responded with equal urgency. Soon Xenas hands cupped Gabrielles firm breasts, the fire becoming a torrent more powerful than anything Xena could control. Gabrielles arms embraced Xena, moving quickly and with great intent. Their breath became heated and rapid. Xena had never felt such passion as she slid out of her nightclothes with the help of Gabrielles tender hands. Gabrielle sat astride Xena, removing the last of her clothing and flinging it into the darkness beyond. Their hands were tender now, not so fast, passion replaced urgency, The caresses grew more intimate. Gabrielle slowly lowered herself, kissing Xena. She started kneading Xenas ample breasts as Xena began to moan and writhe in pleasure. Gabrielles kisses began to descend to her stomach, then lower, and lower. Slowly, Xena felt herself having the first orgasm. Gabrielle turned slowly, hovering and rubbing Xena with her stomach and breasts. Xenas tongue found Gabrielle, causing Gabrielle to writhe more, as Gabrielle finally reached her destination. Their limbs tightened, locked in a heated lovers embrace. All of the frustration and loneliness suddenly left Xena as she and her soul mate bonded in the most powerful way they could.
It was then, at the height of their pleasure, that Xena felt the other. The dark stranger had arrived. But instead of trepidation or fear, Xena no longer feared the stranger. He came to her, to them. His strong body moved to them, Gabrielle sat atop Xena, Kissing the stranger, accepting him as part of them. Te strangers hands joined Gabrielles in embracing Xena, increasing Xenas passion, almost beyond her capacity to control. His kisses joined Gabrielles. Exploring every inch of her body, like an old friend. She could feel his ministrations, even as Gabrielle began to shriek in pleasure from what Xena had been doing in her nether regions. Then Xena felt an explosion of pleasure and passion as the stranger mounted her, undulating and writhing in rhythm to some unseen drummer. A cadence of emotion flooded her. The stranger was gentle, which surprised Xena. Gabrielles light frame continued to move with the same beat, Gabrielle was now Kissing Xena again, having shifted once more to allow the stranger to pleasure her as well. The three continued for what seemed an eternity until finally, in one last blaze of passion and glory, it was over.
Gabrielle and the stranger were gone. Xena was alone. She felt empty, deserted. And yet, she felt she was not alone. The bed was there. She lay in a sweat, her naked body cooling in a mild breeze. Not uncomfortable at all. She lay there listening to the breeze, and saw a sun rising in the distance. She looked over a world that was alien to her. A great city lay in the distance. Gleaming towers of metal and glass, glinting in the rising sun. She was on a hillside now, wearing strange clothes; outlandish by her standards, but comfortable. She looked to the east. Then she saw them, approaching her from the direction of the rising sun. They approached her slowly, and knelt beside her. In unison they spoke. Calm and reassuring In unison they spoke; "You will never be alone again. We are with you."
Xena looked up and saw them, clearly. She saw her beloved Gabrielle, still naked, her beautiful body, shimmering in the morning sun. And next to her, she finally saw him. The stranger, And she knew that this time, she would remember. This time the dream would not end. This time, she had the courage to remember. This time, maybe, she COULD face the reality. As she looked on him, she said but one word; "Ares "
Joxer had just about given up trying to sleep. He was used to somewhat less comfortable surroundings. More than anything he wished he had a nice cool stream to take a bath in. He had not had the opportunity for a bath for some time, and was even starting to offend himself. He puzzled over where to find a bath in the area when he remembered something that that gorgeous captain had said about purple squares and asking for things.
Joxer sat up in bed, and looked around in the darkness. There on a low table to his left was a dimly glowing violet square, set at a very convenient distance from the bed.
Cautiously he moved closer to it, then tentatively reached out with one hand and, after several tries and courage mustering sessions, tapped the square.
There was the same soft chirp sound as he had heard in the captains quarters, then a very pleasant female voice said; "Yes lord Joxer? How may I assist you?"
This was not quite what Joxer had expected. He momentarily forgot about the bath, wanting to find out more about the owner of the incredibly sultry voice. "Um, who is this?"
The voice responded immediately; "I am Keisha, the control entity for this vessel. Was there something you needed?"
"Ah Keisha is it? Um.. What is a control entity?
To Joxer, the voice seemed to take on a note of amusement, "A control entity is a synthetic life form. That is to say that I was created, rather than born in the traditional sense. I am responsible for the smooth operation of every part of the ship. I do everything from advanced navigational calculations, to making sure the lights turn on when you enter your quarters. In your culture I would probably be considered a machine, but I assure you I am not. I am just as alive as you or your friends."
Joxer genuinely tried to understand this, but was having trouble grasping the concept. "Um, where are you?"
Now the voice was truly amused. The same kind of amusement Joxer noted, that he heard in his mothers voice as a child, whenever he would ask something silly. "I am everywhere you look. In essence, I AM the ship. I also have a biological body, which is a part of me as well. That presence is currently sleeping in my crystal bay.
Joxer decided that he knew enough. He was not used to dealing with such concepts, and it was starting to make his head hurt. Just then he remembered his original question; "Keisha? Um, where around here can I get a bath?"
Keisha sounded satisfied with his attitude; "There are both a traditional shower and a sonic refresher in your rest room area. That area is located inside the hatch to your right. I will be happy to help you when you get in there."
To Joxer, the idea of this lovely sounding female helping him take a bath was akin to a guest pass for a week at the Elysian Fields; "Uh yeh, that would be great. Okay."
"Alright, I will run the normal shower for you. We dont have bath tubs in a ship this size, except in the captains quarters. Just go on in and Ill have it all ready for you. Do you wish it cold, room temperature or hot?"
Joxer pondered this for a moment. He usually only took cold baths when in the wild areas, or after staring at Gabrielle too long. "Hot I think. Yes, hot is fine."
Joxer had moved out of bed as he spoke, stripping off the armor he almost always wore, even while sleeping. He quickly moved to the hatch, which opened at his approach, noticing a warm light coming from inside the room.
Joxer had no idea what most of the strange objects that he found in the room were for. There was a strange looking stool with a large circle marked out on the top, as well as what looked like a washbasin, but with two strange knobs. And then he saw a large stall, which had some kind of pipe spraying water into it.
It only took Keisha a few minutes to instruct Joxer on how to operate the shower. And soon Joxer was being thoroughly cleaned by the powerful jets, oblivious to anything else. So oblivious in fact, that he didnt notice the other presence in the room.
As he washed himself clean, Keisha took the opportunity to send a servo drone to collect his filthy armor and underclothing, replacing them with fine satinique pajamas.
Joxer finally noticed something odd when he felt small and strong hands, rubbing his back with a soft cloth. He quickly spun around, and didnt see anything until he looked down.
There before him, totally naked, and with a large smile on her face, was none other than Reeda. "Hi there, thought you could use some company."
Joxer didnt even have time to yell for help as the reed made her desires known.
Xena awakened to a beam of sunlight, filtering in from the clear port next to her bed. She was somewhat dismayed by the dream of the previous night. She remembered it vividly, and in a way, wished that she didnt. Beside her, Gabrielle lay naked upon the bed. Normally her friends penchant for sleeping au naturale did not bother her. But after the last evening, she was slightly disturbed by it. She started to remember the feelings of the dream, and almost at once shut it out of her mind as she felt herself becoming aroused by Gabrielles naked body.
She quickly got up and looked for her armor. She could not find it. Only a strange one piece outfit of the same glossy black material that the crew of the ship wore, hung where she had placed her armor the night before. "Where in Hades are my clothes!" she yelled.
Suddenly a voice came out of thin air; "Relax Xena. I am Keisha. I am having it cleaned and polished for you. It was quite a mess, and the hide it was made of was beginning to wear thin in some places. It will take some time to finish. In the mean time, I think you will find the uniform I have provided is both very comfortable and practical."
Xena had learned long ago, to accept small setbacks like this; "And my weapons?"
The voice paused for a moment then replied; "They are being cleaned and sharpened by some of our finest weapon smiths. They will be ready for you by the time you are finished cleaning up and dressing. I trust you had a good sleep."
Xena felt somewhat at a loss for words when this small reminder of the previous night came up; "Yes, I slept well. Is there some place I can wash up before putting on new clothes?"
"Yes. I will direct you. When you are done, the captain has asked you to join her in her quarters for breakfast. I think something has come up that she wishes to speak with you about."
Xena got up and started to follow Keishas directions to the shower as she called it. She took one last, almost longing look at her beautiful companion, sleeping peacefully on the bed. Once again, the thought of the previous night attempted to assert themselves, but Xena overcame them. She covered Gabrielle with the incredibly thin and warm blankets that the aliens used, and moved to clean up.
Once she had learned how to use the shower and clean herself, she found it a very convenient system. It only took a few minutes before she was cleaner than she had ever been in her life. She returned to the bedroom to find Gabrielle awake and dressed. Apparently Gabrielle had used what Keisha called the sonic refresher, since she had been occupying the shower stall. "Xena, you wouldnt believe this device they have. Keisha says it uses sound to literally shake off every bit of dirt on you, even stuff so small you cant see it. And look at this outfit."
Xena did look. The sleek outfit accentuated every graceful line and curve of Gabrielles athletic form. The clothing left nothing of her figure to the imagination and was stunning to the eye. She noted that it was a twin to the outfit which she had been given, and wondered, while dressing, if she would look as good in hers. The suit had a very short skirt; the bodice was skin tight, and shimmered iridescently in the light. A single thin blue line ran from the neck down the left sleeve to the wrist. A simple double diamond pattern was woven in red and blue over the left breast, and her name had been carefully embroidered over the right. All in all, when she looked in the mirror, she could not recognize herself. And it was as soft as a newborns skin. The material flexed with every movement. Despite its appearance, it did not feel confining or tight at all. She almost felt naked in it.
She took one last appraising look in the mirror and called out to the thin air; "Keisha, I think we are presentable enough to see the captain now. Could you direct us in some way? Im afraid I was so tired last night, I might get lost.
Immediately, as if waiting for her call, and answer came; "Certainly. You look wonderful in our armor. If you will just exit to the passageway, I will have a remote waiting for you. Just follow it and you will arrive at the captains door."
Xena started to move, then stopped; "Armor? What armor?"
"You are now wearing a suit of what we call duty armor. Even the hosiery is coated with a special substance called Armorine. While you wear it, I doubt that any weapon, which exists in this time, would even scratch you. It can stop all normal blades, bow weapons and most projectiles. It is fireproof and will afford protection against extremes of heat or cold. It has advantages over normal clothing aboard a starship. If there were ever an atmosphere or radiation leak while in flight, these clothes would protect the wearer long enough for us to fix the problem or rescue them."
Xena wondered over this new marvel. She couldnt imagine how something so soft and delicate could provide the benefits, which Keisha described.
Xena and Gabrielle left their quarters and in the hall, waiting for them, was a small illuminated ball. It glowed a soft bluish color and pulsated, as if beckoning them to follow as it slowly moved down the passage. As they walked, Xena began to notice small details of the ship, which fatigue had not let her see the preceding day. The corridor was bathed in a soft yellowish light, which gave it a sunlit appearance. The walls were painted a rich sky blue. The floor was covered in a deep violet carpet. And there was a series of intricate engraved and gold embossed patterns, embossed into the material of the wall at about waist height. The overall effect was dazzling. Whoever has designed this ship, was obviously a master artisan.
Soon they arrived at the door to the captains cabin, which opened automatically as they approached. Jenna sat at a low chair in one corner of the room, with an extremely amused expression on her face. Across from her, Joxer sat on a couch of some kind. His face looked anything but amused. Xena could not quite judge the look he held, but judged it to be somewhere shocked disbelief, and ecstasy.
Gabrielle looked a bit concerned for Joxer, then noticed the rather stupefied grin on his face. Jenna motioned them to two chairs across from hers, and began to speak as they sat down. "Good morning. You look rested, which is good. Your friend there seems to have aroused the curiosity of our resident Reed royalty. Among other things "
Xena suddenly realized what Jenna was talking about, and almost broke out laughing. Gabrielle snickered once and made an off color comment to Joxer, which broke Xenas concentration, and she too began to laugh.
After the laughter settled down, and Joxer stopped the twitching in his right hand, Jenna took on a more serious tone; "We have a problem. Some of my scouts report a large force of men and horses heading this way. They seem to have some old-fashioned siege weaponry with them. You know, ballista, catapults and the like. We estimate the force to be well over 300 men. Our scouts say they will reach here at about dawn tomorrow. This does not give us much time."
Xena grasped the situation immediately. The captain did not wish to employ her heavy weapons on a helpless foe. And even if she could, she could not stop them from hurting some of the villagers, which had been helping her people with repairs.
Xena thought for a moment, wondering who would be mounting such an attack, then she asked; "Tell me, did your scouts notice any markings on the mens armor? Something like a small four pointed gray cross?"
Jenna looked at Xena and replied; "How did you know that? Do you know who sent these people?"
"I think it is that priest I told you about. The men he sent after us had markings like that. Some kind of religious symbol."
Jenna considered this. She had dealt with fanatics before, mostly in her old career on her future Earth. They were usually willing to risk anyones life, but their own, in their just causes; very dangerous indeed. "I will have to take protective steps. There is a slim chance that we may be able to complete repairs before they arrive, but it will be extremely close. I will have Garex go out and see if he can delay them somehow. If we can just keep them away a bit longer, then we can leave in peace."
Xena felt this might be a good idea; "Good plan. I suggest that I go with him. I have a bit more experience in dealing with these people. I may be able to find some creative ways to delay them for you. Besides, I know the area and terrain better."
Jenna thought about Xenas offer for a moment. She weighed the potential risks against the benefits before deciding; "Alright, but you will wear a suit of our power armor. It will grant you extra strength and speed. Garex will show you how to operate it."
Xena nodded to Jenna in agreement. Joxer and Gabrielle would also be permitted to go with the party, similarly equipped. Jenna gave Xena and her companions a briefing on the current location of the attacking force, then ordered Garex to get them the necessary equipment and get moving.
A short time later, Xena and her friends, found themselves wearing the strange but powerful alien power armor. Garex was briefing them on its operations; "Now, Xena, you are wearing a suit of officer armor, you others are wearing standard non-com armor. There are a few differences, which I will explain exactly once, so listen and remember. Xena your armor has been linked into your friends in such a way that you can communicate directly with one, the other, or both of them, simply by thinking of them. It uses a form of thought communication, similar to the translator devices I already explained to you. Your armor also has slightly more power, higher speed, and offers a slightly improved protection against energy fire. You wont be facing that here though. Normally we would just let you wear your new duty armor, but the captain thought it would be better if they not see you working with us when we leave, so the helmet will be opaque and the whole suit will make you look exactly like their worst nightmare."
Garex went on to explain about the armors built in arsenal, which Xena doubted that she would use. Instead, she was more interested in the new swords that they had been issued. Garex and his people had orders not to use their high-powered weapons, and only to use their vicious looking blades if necessary. Instead, they were to attempt to use their stunning weapons. Xena was worried however. They would be intercepting the enemy in a dense forest and much of the fighting would likely be close in hand-to-hand combat. In such an area, the Alton troops would be hindered by their great size.
It took some time to reach the approaching force on foot. And, as Xena had feared, they would intercept them in the densest part of the forest. Garex had sent scouts ahead, and they had brought back amazing moving images, which they had recorded of the enemy. They seemed to have picked up some more troops and now numbered close to 500 strong. Garex and his men would be outnumbered by a factor of 50 to 1, but he did not seem the least bit unnerved by the prospect of such odds.
It was early evening, with the sun just beginning to slip over the far mountains, when the advanced scouts reported the enemy near. Garex immediately gave some signal to his men, who promptly disappeared from sight. He then ordered Xena and her group to stay with him as he sprinted off into the woods at a speed which amazed Xena.
Xena was also amazed to find that she and her companions had no trouble at all keeping up with the Alton. She attributed this to her borrowed armor, which she was told would enhance her speed in all ways.
Garex led her to a low hill, which overlooked the road that the enemy would be traveling down. "The first thing we need to do is bunch as many of them up as possible. This is a good spot. Once we get them stalled and bunched, we let them have it with stunners and deal with the rest one on one. My guess is that if we can nail their leaders, the rest will panic and break up. Then they should be easy targets."
Xena felt that Garexs plan would be sound in most military campaigns, but these were fanatics, and more likely to just charge the source of their leaders apparent demise. However, he seemed to have a lot more experience with the capabilities of the armor and the particular tactics, which one needed to employ to take full advantage of the technology.
The wait was short. Soon Xena could see the leading scouts of the troops coming down the road. They used a box formation, which told her that these were probably Roman mercenaries. Garex let these men pass unmolested, and soon the main column could be seen coming down the road. This group seemed to be a mish-mash of different troops. Xena could also see a few people who she believed to be mercenaries from the eastern nation of Cathay. In a hand-to-hand fight, these would prove the most dangerous, and she pointed this out to Garex who simply nodded in acknowledgement.
When Garex saw them reach a certain point in the road, he gave a small verbal signal over the suit intercom. Xena heard a strange whistling sound and a whoosh. Soon a large deposit of granite across the road exploded with great force and came crashing down on the road a few hundred meters from the oncoming troops. She simultaneously heard a second similar noise coming from down the road, just beyond a small bend. She knew that Garex and his men had set a trap and it had just been sprung. Garex raised up to his full height then. He let out a blood-curdling roar, which his troops emulated. Xena guessed this was designed more to inspire fear in the enemy than anything else.
It seemed to have this affect initially. The enemy force was surprised for a moment. These men however, were professional soldiers, and they did not stay surprised long. Evan as Garex was reaching for his stun rod, enemy bolts and arrows were arcing into the woods on both sides of the road. Garex and his men bean firing the strange weapons into the road. Before Garex and his men could stun more than a dozen or so of the enemy however, they began filing into the thin layer of woods between the road and the hillsides. Garex cursed under his breathe; "Boiling blood! I forgot what tenacious fighters you Terrans are. Now we have to go after them at close range."
With that, he said something into his helmet pickup and ducked back into cover and began heading for the edge of the road.
When Xenas group arrived, there was no time for planning. They dove into a veritable wall of enemy troops. Using the stun rod was impossible. There were just too many of them. Xena could see that the enemy had latched onto a very successful, although very old and simple, tactic. They were using their numerical advantage to good effect by pig piling the Altons. Twenty or thirty attackers would simply jump one Alton and begin beating and hacking him until the sheer concussion would render that soldier unconscious. Three of Garexs ten men were already in deep trouble. Xena dre her sword and went to work.
The battle was not going well. It seemed that the entire mass of enemy troops had arrived within a few minutes. Xena was not sure who was commanding this group, but she had to give their leader credit. They were effectively winning a fight against a much more technically advanced race.
Xena could see Joxer and Gabrielle fighting back to back. Joxer was actually dangerous. Xena could not tell if it was his suit, or the fact that Gabrielle was relying on him. She had to admit that, in the advanced and sleek looking armor, he looked dangerous. And as for Gabrielle, she had acquired a strange staff like weapon from one of the ships crew before they left, and was now using it to full effect. She didnt seem to need to hit someone more than once with the glowing pike. Once down, they tended to stay down as well. She just hoped that Joxer could protect her. She vowed that if she ever got out of this, she would find out what her true feelings toward her really were. For the moment however, she had problems of her own. About thirty of the enemy had been circling her for a few moments. She knew from watching the surrounding fight, that this meant they were preparing to try the pig piling maneuver. Her back was against the wall now, but she had no wall.
Suddenly they sprung. She knew she could fend off the attackers in front of her, but those behind her would take her down any second. She kept fighting like a madwoman. The howling blade of the Windsaber she had been given, struck again and again, cutting through the metal of the oppositions armor and weapons like a hot dagger through butter. The strange crystal blade never once obtained a single blood stain, which Xena found somewhat unnatural, but it served its purpose admirably.
Before she knew it, the enemy in front of her was gone. She turned quickly to handle the threat behind her, only to see an amazing site. Behind her lay several dead soldiers, and a dark figure, wiping blood from his blade. "Long time no see Xena. You really should choose your battles more carefully."
Xena momentarily forgot the battle going on around her. The site of him, standing tall and strong, his powerful arms holding his blade as most men would hold their lover. His dark eyes, penetrating to the depths of her soul, Ares stood, once again, her involuntary savior.
Thoughts from the preceding night flooded back to her, momentarily distracting her from the fight going on around her. Thoughts of his hands, caressing her, thoughts of his embrace, thoughts of his wild unrestrained passion, all assailed her.
When Xena was finally able to put the thoughts back in perspective, she saw two more bodies, littering the ground on either side of her. Ares was standing before her, a confused look in his eyes. "Are you alright? You didnt get smacked in the head did you? Oh well, big battle, probably just tired, mortals get that way."
Xena looked into his eyes, words forming in her mouth before she could stop them; "I I.. I lo "
Ares looked even more confused as he spat out; "Well, out with it. This is not the time or place for idle chit chat."
Xena recovered at the last second. Averting her gaze from Ares, something she had never done before, she finished; "I lost my dagger."
Xena knew it was a lame line, but what she had almost said had frightened her. Somewhere deep down however, she knew that this issue would never be finished. She vowed to talk to Jenna once the battle was over. She had a feeling that something was wrong with her. Perhaps the aliens could help her find out what it was.
Ares clapped Xena on the shoulder to get her attention; "Are you done looking for your Dagger? Ill make you a deal, you snap out of it and Ill have Hephaestus make you a new one. Now get moving. We arent finished here yet."
Xena snapped back to the present, and the two continued to thin out the enemy herd. After what seemed like hours, Garexs men were able to use their stun rods. Then a medical team from their ship arrived and began to treat all of the wounded on both sides. Xena was amazed when she saw men who she was sure were dead, beginning to breath again. She saw wounds, so bad that the bodies were pale due to lack of blood, heal, and color return to the bodies.
Ares looked on in wonder as well. He seemed more interested in the weapons which the Alton troops used than the miracles going on around them. Xena decided that she now needed to find out exactly what Ares was doing here. She walked over to him, keeping her hand in easy reach of her sidearm; "Ares? What in Hades are you doing here? I mean, I dont want to sound ungrateful, but this isnt normally your style."
For an instant, Xena saw what looked like a genuinely hurt expression on Ares face, then he regained his composure and answered her in a very uncharacteristically tender voice; "You dont know do you? I sensed that you needed help Xena. Maybe I have decided to try it your way. Did you ever think of that possibility? Maybe I am tired of violence with no real purpose. Maybe I have decided that my father can go to Tartarous. He tried to stop me from coming you know. Listen Xena. I have spent eternity believing that war in itself was the end as well as the means. Now though, you have taught me something. War is a method to an end. Violence for no reason is just a senseless waste. There has to be some larger goal to justify it. All of the good strong men and women who have died for me, just for the sake of war, they died for nothing more than to satisfy my ego. Perhaps you will never understand. But know this. From this day forward, I will do whatever I can do to help those I can. War will not be practiced for no reason. Xena, I am doing this as much for you as for myself. You found your redemption in Gabrielle, and you have passed that gift on to me. I must leave now, before my father realizes what I have done. If he ever does Xena, we are both finished. Xena, I I love you."
Xena couldnt speak. She initially thought that this was just another of Ares seemingly endless ploys to win her back. But this time, she could see the change in his face. She stood there, staring at the single tear falling down Ares face, not speaking at all, she watched as he disappeared in a blaze of light.
After Ares left, Xena stood standing into the air for a minute or so, then she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder; "Xena, are you alright? I thought I saw Ares during the fight."
Xena turned to see Gabrielle standing before her. She had taken off her armored helmet and her concerned face was almost more than Xena could bear at that point. Suddenly, emotional overload overtook her. Xena began to sob softly and then a torrent of feelings burst loose. She fell into Gabrielles arms, crying like a newborn child; "Oh Gabrielle, he was here. He helped us. He probably saved me. He probably saved all of us. He opened his heart to me and all I could do was stare.."
Xena suddenly felt very dizzy. The earth and air seemed to spin around her, and then all was black.
Xena awakened to a warm hand holding hers. She opened her eyes, feeling a cool breeze passing over her body. Her eyes began to clear as she looked up. Next to her sat Gabrielle. She was the most beautiful thing Xena had ever seen. She had bathed and was wearing a very short white translucent skirt and halter. Xena once again had to put away what she now knew she felt for her soul mate. Gabrielle seemed to glow in the warm light of the room. It was then that Xena realized that she was back aboard the Angel.
"What happened Gabrielle?" She asked as she tried to raise herself up to a sitting position.
Gabrielles soft hands assisted her, propping a large and comfortable pillow behind her as she replied; "You scared the dickens out of all of us. The ships physician thinks you got a little too close to a stun rod blast and it caused some form of reaction. They had those things set pretty high you know. But they arent telling me something, and I dont know what it is. Jenna should be here shortly."
Xena was feeling better than she had in a long time. Old aches and pains seemed to be gone. She also noticed that a small but annoying scar on her right thigh was no longer there. "Gabrielle, what did they do to me."
Gabrielle sighed and answered while stretching; "Well, they put you in some kind of device. The called it a Regenerator. They said it basically looks at the way you are supposed to be put together and makes sure that you are perfect according to your building plans, whatever they meant by that. The end result is that any physical problems you had before they did it are gone. They also stuck Joxer and me in one as well, and all of the troops and prisoners from the fight. You have been out for about 12 hours."
Xena was still digesting this bit of information when the hatch irised open and Jenna walked in. She was attired in a similar outfit to Gabrielle, but in black. She walked to a chain on the opposite side of the bed from Gabrielle and sat down; "Well, youre looking better. You were a sweating mess when they brought you back. You scared the bajeezuz out of the field medic."
Xena was disarmed by the concerned look of relief on Jennas face, so her reply was polite; "I understand from Gabrielle that I have actually never been better. What happened to me?"
Jenna seemed to get uncomfortable for a moment but finally spoke, her voice very serious; "I am afraid you were the unintentional victim of something we didnt even consider. You succumbed to an entertainment device in your quarters."
Xena looked confused so Jenna continued; "You see, we have a device in all the quarters to help the crew deal with extended voyages. It is automatic and we neglected to turn it off. Its called a psyonic augmenter. What it does is search the subjects mind while they sleep. I then creates what it believes are the most realistic and pleasant dreams it can, based upon the subjects most deep seated desires and wishes. I bet you had a hell of a dream recently. Unfortunately, the system wasnt designed for the minute differences in your unusual brain structure. You seem to have some unusual qualities. That combined with the strength of your personality and that near brush with the stun rod in the battle, was a bit more than your system could handle. So your body did the only thing it could. You went into a coma so your brain could sort things out. We basically checked you out and gave you some things to speed up the process. Now, this is important, you may have picked up some minor enhancements in the process. Your body is now in its best-ever possible physical condition. I am talking about everything from body fat ratio, to your coordination and strength. You will find yourself as limber as a 17 year old, because physically you are a 17 year old again. There are some changes in your appearance accompanying this. Oh one more thing I better tell you but it is a bit intimate.."
"Out with it!"
Jenna sighed and actually looked amused; "Youre a virgin again, well, physically anyways."
Xena took one look at the amused expression on Jennas face and burst out laughing. A few moments after she stopped she blurted out; "Well wont that just tickle Ares."
Xenas hands flew to her mouth as she said it, as a look of shock crossed Gabrielles face.
Jenna laughed for another moment and continued; "Oh yes.. one more thing, your brain has lost a small amount of the inhibitions which happen when aging occurs. This is harmless, but you may have a tendency to be a bit more impulsive, maybe even giddy at times. Enjoy your youth Xena."
Xena though about this set of facts for a moment. Her figure did look slimmer. She had been finding it harder to keep in fighting condition lately. Now she felt as if she could take on an army by herself. A new chance had been given her, and she vowed not to waste it.
The three continued to discuss the changes in Xena and Gabrielle for some time. Finally Gabrielle and Jenna left Xena to rest.
Once outside of Xenas cabin, Jenna turned to Gabrielle; "Well you were there during the psyonic examination. You know what her dream was. Are you going to tell her about yours."
Gabrielle looked at Jenna with a look of warm happiness as she answered; "In good time. I want her to have time to adjust to her new self before I complicate things further. And this is something I never expected. It amazes me how a machine can show two people a way that they had been denying themselves for so long. Your culture is a lot more forgiving than ours in some respects. Once I do tell her, and if it goes where I hope it will, then we could have more problems than answers."
Jenna sighed and leaned against the wall; "In our culture, the important thing is that the two, or more, people involved, love each other. You have met several of our Argonide crewmembers. They are the ones you thought looked like female angels. During a series of wars, a biological weapon killed all but a handful of their male population. And to make matters worse, they were rendered incapable of bearing male children. Luckily their biology is so dominant that they can mate with one of hundreds of other species and the result will almost always be a clutch of full-blooded female Argonides. If they didnt hae this dominance, they would be extinct by now. But the important thing is that they learned to love people for themselves, independent of gender. This is a lesson, which your people will not learn for a long time. But remember this. Xena loves you in ways that she has trouble expressing. Stay with her, be there for her. Life is full of unexpected surprises. Now, lets get back to the bridge, I have a ship to prepare for flight.
Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer stood on the bridge of the great ship. Around them was a bustle of calm activity. Xena now saw Jennas flight crew at their best. She could tell that these people knew their jobs and her estimation of them went up by several more leaps and bounds as they carried out their tasks.
Jenna walked over to them as they stood watching the forward view port; "Xena. I cant thank you enough for your help. I doubt we would have gotten a chance to take off if you hadnt come to us. I have decided to give you a small reward for your help. Please take a seat near the front.
Xena and her friends looked to each other. They were not about to quibble about a reward. They moved to the indicated seats and waited. Shortly Jenna seated herself with them and explained; "You see, after repairs of that nature, it is always a good idea to take a short flight, just to check and recalibrate systems before we attempt a time jump. I thought you might like a small taste of what the future holds.
Xena thought about this before replying; "Your future you mean. We will be mere ashes by the time your ship exists on our world. But I would like to see it just once, thank you."
With that, Jenna stood up and moved back to her command chair; "Primary reactors online, prepare for lift sequencing. All drives online. Temporal, Dimensional, and Outside force damping online. Lift in ten."
Xenas groups were expecting anything, but what happened was somewhat not anything they expected. First, a soft, low, almost purring sound began to emit from the ship. Xena noticed the crew working in a calm, almost everyday manner. She glanced back to the port to find the ground dropping rapidly away beneath them. The sky soon began to become clearer and more defined. More and more stars began to appear.
Jenna watched Xenas group in amusement. They seemed to be handling space flight much better than most people did on their first try. "Break orbit at apogee Laria, once around to Proxima and then back. Standard cruise speed. Oh Laria, give our guests a nice view."
On the lower tear, a beautiful woman who Xena had not met before confirmed the order with a smile and manipulated what looked like a thick stick in her right hand, while pulling back a set of levers in her left. Xena saw as the ship rotated and she could see it. Her entire world expanded before her. A great blue orb, it sat in the middle of a vast black sea. The sight was incredible. She could see the Mediterranean Sea, and the Nordic isles to the north. She could even see Cathay and the mysterious lands of India. She could not place most of the landmasses however. But she could see an enormous continent to the west of her homeland, across a vast sea.
Jenna saw her expression; "Xena, you are privileged. The large mass to the west is North America. It wont be officially discovered for a long, long time. That is my homeland. On its eastern coast. One day, that continent will hold the most powerful nations in the world. And eventually, everything you see will be united under one banner. Now watch this. Laria, position and engage for star speed."
The pilot, as Xena had decided the woman must be, nodded once and did something with the controls. The ship pitched up and was suddenly pointing at the sea of stars. A small blue marker appear in thin air in front of her, and suddenly the stars shimmered and began to move at an incredible speed.
In the space of less than an hour, Xena beheld a vision, which she found totally fascinating. Below the ship now, laid an alien world. Great seas and forests could be seen through the white cloud cover. A world, which had never, before been touched by man was laid before her. She was awe struck. She almost wanted to cry when Jenna gave the order to return to her world.
Xena, Gabrielle, and Joxer stood a safe distance from the Angel. Some of the single men from the villages had requested to go along with the ship. Xena envied them. They would see things, which she could only dream about. But she knew that her place was here, in her time, helping her people.
Jenna had made some gifts to her when she left. She allowed her group to keep the duty armor they had been given, as long as they used it with responsibility. Xena was also given the crystalline Windsaber sword she had used in battle. Gabrielle had been allowed to keep the Shock Staff, which she had wielded. And Joxer had been given something very special by Reeda, a new helmet and plate armor. This armor was not quite as tough as the duty armor, however it did make Joxer look respectable for a change, and combined with the Windsaber that he was also allowed to keep, he had suddenly become a most formidable Joxer. All three of them had also been given a small pin, depicting a winged woman with some unusual carvings. Jenna had explained that all of her crew wore the pin. It had made them honorary members of the crew.
All in all Xena and her companions watched contentedly as the ship began to lift quietly from its resting place. Xena could see the pale blue glow of the engine crystal on the aft section of the ship. Then, without warning, the ship shot into the air at a speed that the eye could not follow. Leaving only a brilliantly colored trail, which faded in moments.
Xena wished Jenna and her brave crew the best of luck in getting home. She had had an experience, which she would not soon forget. She decided to wear the new duty armor until she could get her normal outfit adjusted to fit her somewhat slimmer and younger figure. Gabrielle wore hers as well, and Joxer looked resplendent and dangerous in his new attire.
It only took them a few hours to walk back to the small house where they had left the horses. Sharra and her father greeted them when they arrived. It took some time to explain their story to them, which gave Xena some time to pack their horses for a trip they had decided to take to Athens. But Xena needed to make one quick stop on the way. There was a certain priest whom she had made a promise to.
The dirty hut was much as she remembered it from her last visit, but somehow different. There were no burly men to greet her with pipes and hammers this time, and the door was not latched.
Xena drew her new sword and cautiously walked into the building. It was dark, and there was a dank and foul smell in the air. Xena recognized this smell. It was the smell of death assailing her nostrils.
Xena walked up the dingy and narrow aisle to the podium. She could hear the buzzing of flies nearby, and she knew what that meant. Somewhere nearby, something nasty awaited her.
It took a few minutes to find the body. It looked to have been dead for about a day. Xena approached it in the gloom of the building and bent down over it. It was the priest. The man had not died well. His heart had been completely cut out. Xena initially thought that some of the villagers might have finally gotten sick of the man, when she saw a glint near the body.
She walked over to the source, and discovered a finely crafted dagger, cleaned and lying on a piece of parchment.
The dagger was of exquisite quality, and bore the mark of Hephaestus on the hilt. Xena took the parchment and was barely able to read it in the dim light.
"Sometimes violence does have a purpose, when it is for the good of others. This man was a parasite. Now he is less than nothing. Enjoy the dagger. I always keep my promises.
Xena looked back at the body and smiled. Placing the dagger in her belt, she got up and went to find her friends. They had a date in Athens. She had heard that the Persians had been getting uppity lately.
Ares entered the throne room in Olympus with some trepidation. His father sat on the throne, looking very angry. Ares knew that something had not been quite right with him for some time now. It seemed to have started with an audience he had had with the fates some time ago.
"Father. You summoned me?"
Zeus looked at his son with a face smacking of something like disgust.
"Yes I summoned you. You have been having far too much involvement with that warrior woman. It ends now."
Ares knew that this day would come. But he had made allowances for it. Soon his father would know his plans. But he would only know about them, when it was far too late.
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